I don’t know what’s going to flummox some of my readers more, the fact that I’m about to endorse a piece of state legislation authored by a couple of Republicans, or the fact that I’m largely agreeing with an editorial in The Seattle Times? [An idea for higher-ed going, going, gone]
Reps. Fred Jarrett (R-Mercer Island) and Skip Priest (R-Federal Way) are struggling to get a hearing on HB 1434, a bill that would inject a long-term perspective towards funding our college and university system. According to the times:
House Bill 1434, and its companion Senate Bill 5868, would establish a framework for funneling new revenue to higher education as the state economy improves.
By 2012, the current higher-education budget of about $1.2 billion would increase by about one-third. The difference would pay for another 30,000 student spots and more state investment in research. While the bill would permit tuition to increase dramatically, it would add in a more aggressive financial-aid component. The bottom line is, no family would pay more than 30 percent of a student’s education cost.
I’m not necessarily convinced about all the specifics, but then, this is a bill, not an initiative, so there is plenty of opportunity for deliberation and compromise. And I’d caution that The Times’ ebullient description of the bill as “THE best, most forward-looking” higher-education proposal, should include the caveat that HB 1434 may be the only forward-looking proposal being actively pitched at the moment.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the bill’s main principles, as outlined in an editorial Rep. Jarrett wrote, and forwarded to me:
HB 1434 has four guiding principles: Any reforms must be based on long-term strategic plan; they must address both the changing needs of today’s students and our economy; they must make higher education more affordable and accessible for all Washingtonians, and, most importantly, they must establish a system of accountability for taxpayers so we can be confident the first three principles will be met.
Yeah, yeah, sure… all that stuff is good. But the part of the proposal that intrigues me most involves the shift of state funding from flat per-slot subsidies to more of a financial aid model. HB 1434 would result in substantially higher tuition, but would provide financial aid grants to assure that total tuition eats up no more than 30% of any family’s income. This is a change I have long supported, indeed, way back on July 17 I wrote:
We need to move away from subsidizing all students equally, towards a means-tested system where tuition approaches market prices, and students receive generous financial aid based on need.
In fact, while I’m quoting myself, I’d like to point out for the umpteenth time that education is our state’s single most important economic engine, and well… you get the economy you pay for:
Just as individuals invest in their own future by attending college, our state invests in our future economy by making college more accessible. Education consumes the single largest chunk of our state and local taxes, so when Tim Eyman talks about eliminating “government waste” this is what he has in mind.
You get what you pay for. If we buy ourselves a second-rate educational system, our children will inherit a second-rate economy.
Reps. Jarrett and Priest should be commended for their forward-looking proposal, and for championing some solutions which likely won’t be greeted with much enthusiasm from either side of the aisle. My hope is that it generates genuine bipartisan dialogue on a higher-education funding crisis that is putting our future economy at risk.